Byron farmer honored for rescuing soil

February 23, 2019

BYRON, Minn. — When Curt Tvedt purchased his family’s farmland in 1976, it was the start of both a farming and rescue operation.

His father had rented out the land for years and it was in rough shape, so much so that Tvedt said there were parts couldn’t get a tractor through.

“The ground was at a point of no return,” said Tvedt. “So I’ve looked at it as a degraded resource, and I’m trying to build it back.”

For his passion and advocacy for soil health, Tvedt was honored as one of this year’s recipients of the Environmental Achievement Award.

Environmental Achievement Awards have been given out since 1992 through a partnership between the Olmsted County Environmental Resources Department and Rochester Public Utilities. Awards honor community members, businesses and organizations that have made a significant contribution to environmental quality in Olmsted County.

Winners are nominated by the community and then selected by a review committee. Tvedt was the only farmer to take home the honor this year.

“Tvedt’s commitment to bettering his soil’s health has educated and inspired many throughout the region to alternative farming practices like reduced tillage and cover cropping,” said Shona Snater, bridge to soil health organizer for the Land Stewardship Project.

Tvedt discovered years ago how to build soil back relatively quickly, through no-till and cover cropping techniques. He started by planting rye cover crops to use for cattle feed, and has since planted bean crops into the rye. The practice protects the soil from heavy rains and suppresses weed growth. His ultimate goal is to increase soil health to the point where he doesn’t need to put extra labor, fuel or fertilizer into the crop.

“I’m not at the forefront, I’m just retired so I can play around a little bit,” said Tvedt.

But it was a long road that brought him to the point he’s at today. When asked how many years he’s been farming, Tvedt just laughs.

“I started driving tractors 70 years ago,” said Tvedt.

After working an office job for about 10 years, he went back to farming and bought the 160 acres of land his dad purchased in 1941. Back then, Tvedt said it was considered the poorest soil in Salem Township.

In 2013, Tvedt’s eyes were opened when he went with the LSP to Burleigh County in North Dakota to see the success some farmers were having with cover crops and no-till practices. More than half the farmland in Burleigh County is no-till today.

He credits LSP for bringing farmers to other counties and working as a middle man to get the word out about better conservation practices.

“Individual farmers can’t afford to bring speakers in,” he said of the LSP events, which sometimes bring out more than 100 people.

He decided upon his return that he’d start using some of the same methods. That was after he’d researched more data, listened to a lot of podcasts and took some day-classes in microbiology. He decided using both cover crop and no-till methods would get him the best results.

Tvedt is now part of a peer-to-peer group of several Byron-area farms. The group includes Martin Larsen, a farmer and employee for the Soil and Water Conservation District in Olmsted County, who shows the benefits of soil structure and water infiltration. It also includes farmer Tom Pyfferoen, who breaks down the do’s and dont’s of starting to no-till farm.

“We share what we did this year, what worked and what didn’t work, so we can learn from each other,” said Tvedt. “Peer groups are really important, and if you go to the areas where cover crops have really taken off, it’s because of (peer groups) driving it.”

He said there are plenty of tutorials and articles written about conservational farming methods, but he’d recommend anyone interested in the techniques to attend a field day and hear from farmers themselves. And to not expect the switch to be simple.

“You’re gonna get knocked on your teeth once in a while whenever you try something new, because it’s new,” said Tvedt.